Zvi Biener

Scrivener is Awesome (And So Can You!)

10/07/2015  scriveneracademic tools

(Revised 9/03/2019)

Scrivener is worth every penny. In fact, it’s the only piece of software I suggest students buy. Everything else I use is open-source. In this post, I’ll list why I use Scrivener. In later posts, I’ll provide more detailed instructions.

I use Scrivener because it encourages the user to:

  • Distinguishes Author’s Text from Reader’s text:
    Standard word-processors don’t divide what the author sees from what the reader sees. The underlying logic is that an author should work on a document until it reaches a final state, which is the state the reader will see it in. Scrivener, on the other hand, assumes that even at its final state, a document may contain elements the author does not with the reader to see. This is incredibly useful. For example, the author may wish to keep the following item hidden:

    • paragraphs that had to be removed because of space considerations
    • notes about incomplete ideas
    • to-do lists
    • footnotes that went in directions that were ultimately foreign to the paper
    • alternate formulations of key theses, etc.
  • Write in small, moveable chunks:
    Applications like MS-Word and Pages conceive of each document as a single, mammoth entity. That’s not how I write. I write in very small bits (e.g., a paragraph on the existing literature, a paragraph defending some small part of my argument, etc.). Scrivener lets me do that, name the paragraphs, and move those bits around easily. Where word requires finding specific locations in the document and then cutting-and-pasting text, Scrivener can just drag-and-drop whole textual elements.

  • Structure the small bits into an outline Scrivener has two built-in organization tools: a traditional outliner and a corkboard. I don’t use these often, but the corkboard has helped me get out of an organizational jam multiple times, by offering a nice visual representation of part of my documents.

  • Set word-count targets and track them:
    I want to write x words per day and finish the article by date y. How am I doing? Scrivener can answer.

  • Output to multiple formats:
    I use Scrivener to interface with LaTeX (more later). But it can be used to output to PDF, RTF, MMD, etc, and it can modify the formatting of the text depending on the output format. Academics don’t have a great need for this, but if you like generality – and many philosophers do – you’ll like this ‘abstract’ way of approaching a document. I’ll later describe how I also use PANDOC, which is a lovely tool, and made by a philosopher!

  • Serve as front end to LaTeX:
    This is related to the last point. Using LaTeX should not be a priority for students, and is not a priority for most academics. But I love LaTeX. Sadly, front-ends to LaTeX are usually more suitable for programming than for authoring. Scrivener is an author’s front-end to LaTeX.

Scrivener is a very deep tool and can do lots of other things well too. But these are the biggies for me. Details in later posts.